Hodgson Backs Joe Hart

Joe Hart will start England’s critical World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland this month after Roy Hodgson flung his full support behind the goalkeeper despite recent high-profile errors for club and country.

Manchester City’s first-choice was arguably culpable for two of Bayern Munich’s goals as the European champions won 3-1 in the Champions League at the Etihad stadium on Wednesday, his display drawing criticism from the England coach, Gary Neville, in his capacity as an analyst for Sky. There have been other mistakes that have cost his side, notably against Scotland and Cardiff, but Hodgson is not tempted to turn to either Celtic’s Fraser Forster or John Ruddy of Norwich as England, top of Group H, seek to secure their passage to Brazil.

“I’m not blind so I do realise this is not a good moment for Joe,” said Hodgson. “He’s a proud man and a very good goalkeeper, so when he’s criticised he’s very unhappy. But I still believe in Joe Hart. I have faith in him and strongly believe he won’t let England down and he’ll play well. He’s never let me or the team down in my time during my 18 months here, and I’ve every faith he’ll have the confidence to put this behind him. He’ll come through the games, get us through and put that bad form behind him.

“I’m convinced this is not the right moment to put a Fraser Forster into the team and give him that responsibility, or even a John Ruddy, who’s come back from injury. It’d be a big ask to put someone in for these games. I’m not greatly in favour, especially with goalkeepers, of dropping them the moment they have a bad game and putting in someone who’s had a good game. We have to look beyond that. This is a game where Joe, who’s played all the games up to now, can make up for any criticism that’s been levelled at him. We need experience, players who are tried and tested, players who play regularly at the very top level. If you look at the goalkeepers we have who fit those criteria, he’s clearly No1.”

Hart has rarely been seriously challenged as England’s No1 since becoming a regular, initially under Fabio Capello, after the 2010 World Cup. He has generally excelled in the senior set-up. The side have conceded three goals in eight ties in World Cup qualification, with Hart keeping five successive clean sheets in all competitions for City and England before he was beaten by Wayne Rooney’s consolation goal in the Manchester derby last month.

Indeed, promoting the uncapped Forster – despite his excellent display for Celtic against Barcelona on Tuesday – or Ruddy, who boasts a solitary appearance, would provoke memories of Steve McClaren’s sudden elevation of Scott Carson for the final qualifier ahead of Euro 2008 after Paul Robinson’s loss of form. Carson was duly exposed for two of the visitors’ three goals as England were beaten and missed out on the tournament.

Hart’s high-profile slips no longer seem quite as out of character as they once did with Hodgson, who will attend City’s Premier League game against Everton on Saturday lunchtime, conceding the 26-year-old is currently enduring a fragile spell of form. “Watching him walk off the pitch [against Bayern], I’m pretty sure he was disappointed and saddened by a performance he might concede himself could have been so much better,” Hodgson said. “But, as a goalkeeper, if you can’t overcome those periods, you can’t be a top goalkeeper. He’s done that in his career before and he remains a self-confident individual, a lively character.

“I know anxiety can transmit itself to the other players, so that will be a concern, but I believe that won’t happen and he will have the confidence because he’s the England No1. Not long ago, under a year, he was being described as the world’s best goalkeeper. You don’t go from that to someone who doesn’t deserve a place in the team. It’s unfortunate and a concern, of course, and we’d love to be going into this game with all the players in form but, as a national coach, you have some players riding the crest of a wave and others less so. That’s how it goes. I have to give them confidence and have confidence in them. They need to go out and perform.”

Hodgson’s 23-man party includes Rooney and Daniel Sturridge, who missed last month’s games against Moldova and Ukraine through injury, while retaining the youngsters Ross Barkley and the uncapped Andros Townsend. Ashley Young, out of favour at Manchester United, is the most notable omission.

Hodgson, who will be at White Hart Lane on Sunday for Spurs’ derby against West Ham, reiterated that he had no qualms about Neville being critical of England players while working as a pundit. “Gary only ever calls things as he sees them,” he said. “And he’s not afraid to be critical.”

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